Politics, resignations add wrinkle to area's DEP office

February 20, 2012 12:00 am
  • William Darr, resigned DEP regional counsel
    William Darr, resigned DEP regional counsel
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It's been a rough six months for attorneys at the state Department of Environmental Protection's regional office in Pittsburgh.

The Corbett administration forced one longtime legal leader to resign, and its appointment of a replacement was thwarted by federal conflict-of-interest rules.

Together, those departures have undermined the morale of the remaining attorneys in the southwest region, according to several people with knowledge of the issues, and pushed waves of concern through DEP offices across the state about the departure of a much-respected colleague and the subsequent politicization of the regional counsel job.

The turmoil has occurred in one of the state's most legally complicated environmental regions and could, in time, affect work on administrative orders and enforcement cases involving coal mining, air and water pollution, and oil and gas drilling and development, observers say.

DEP's southwest region has been without a permanent regional counsel since early November, when William Darr, the Corbett administration's appointee to the legal and administrative leadership position, resigned because of a financial link to Consol Energy. That followed the administration's forced resignation in July of longtime regional counsel Diana Stares.

State General Counsel Stephen Aichele appointed Mr. Darr regional counsel effective Sept. 27 at an annual salary of $105,018, according to state employment documents the Post-Gazette obtained through a Right-To-Know Law request.

Mr. Darr, a veteran attorney in private practice in Indiana County, had been that county's Republican chairman, a member of the Republican State Committee and chair of the party's southwestern Pennsylvania caucus, positions he relinquished to take the DEP job.

But he resigned the appointment six weeks later, on Nov. 10, rather than submit required federal conflict-of-interest paperwork, said individuals familiar with the workings of the DEP regional office. The paperwork would have shown that he is eligible to receive a pension from Consol because of his legal work in the 1980s and 1990s for the Rochester & Pittsburgh Coal Co., which Consol bought in 1998.

First Published 2012-02-19 23:11:12

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